I admired her shoes.
I wished I had a pair just like them.
I imagined what it must be like to walk into a room wearing those shoes and have everybody notice them, fuss over them, and commend them.
I was even arrogant enough to think how I might have worn them differently or ever better. I thought about how I would have carried myself and responded to the shoes admirers if I were given the opportunity to wear such amazing shoes.
I guess it’s safe to say that I had shoe envy.
I imagined that if I had those shoes, I’d be the happiest woman alive. I’d never take them off. I’d wear them every day ever where, holding my head high. Heck, I might even run a marathon---if I only had those shoes.
In my naiveté, I was judgmental of the woman wearing the shoes. I looked at her through critical eyes thinking, “What has she got to complain about---look at those shoes?”
And then I got an inside look at the shoes and discovered that I was wrong.
It turns out that the shoes were uncomfortable. They pinched and forced your foot to take on a shape that although beautiful wasn’t completely natural. Because of this, it was hard to walk in them.
Adding to the pressure and pain, I found out that the woman wearing them had a foot condition that required special attention. Behind the smile and the kind greetings she gave out as she wore the shoes, she was enduring the physical pain that the shoes were causing her.
Another thing that many people didn’t know about was the pressure points these shoes triggered, or the special maintenance it these shoes required. Most were unaware that she arose early in the morning to polish the shoes, or stayed up late at night getting the shoes ready for the next day.
Hardly anyone remembers all the hard work she put in as she paid the price to earn the privilege of wearing the shoes. Few know about the days that she went without shoes or gave the shoes she had to others on the journey toward owning the coveted shoes today. Even fewer stop to think about the enormous responsibility she carries now as she chooses to slip her feet into those shoes every morning. The truth is that these shoes came at a price---a cost that continues every day.
After I saw the price of the shoes and the sacrifice it took to wear them, I began to look at the woman wearing the shoes in a completely different light. Rather than admiring the shoes, I now found myself admiring HER and the strength it took to wear walk each day in those shoes with so much dignity and grace. Rather than criticizing how she could walk better, taller, straighter, I watch with wonder and ask, “How is she walking so well at all? I wonder if I could ever wear those shoes as well as she does?”
Quite a change of perspective.
They say you should “Never judge a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes.”
Over the course of the past year, I’ve learned a lot of “shoe envy” and grace. Oddly enough, I’ve learned it by being on both sides of the “shoe parable”.
The truth is that I’m ashamed to say that I have been guilty of being too quick to voice my opinions and criticisms when I had absolutely no idea how difficult it was to walk in another’s shoes. While I was looking at the world as if it revolved around me, I didn’t even see how difficult the road they were walking had become, much less how arduous it must have been to walk that road in their shoes. As I write this, I am humbled, convicted and deeply regretful that I judged another woman without fully understanding what it was like to be in her shoes.
Ironically, over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to see the “shoe parable” from the other side of the coin as others have judged, criticized, and critiqued how I was walking without knowing what it was like to be in my shoes. Rather than finding out the truth, they assigned attitudes, motivations, intentions that were the furthest thing from my mind. With a final “I’d never act that way if I were in your shoes” their opinion was sealed and shared. Trust me, if finding out I was wrong in my assessment of others didn’t change me forever, actually having my own shoes judged so mercilessly definitely did!
Hence, the parable of the shoes---a gentle, possibly factious way of reminding all of us of some things that we already know. Like:
You should never covet your neighbor’s shoes
Especially without knowing how much your neighbor paid for them or how difficult they are to wear. Obviously, the same applies to another woman’s life. Don’t covet it or waste your time with jealousy and envy until you know how much work it took to get where she is and how difficult it is to live her life.
Proverbs 14:10 says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.”
We’d all do well to remember that before we covet another’s life. Here’s something else we should remember:
The grass isn’t always greener in someone else’s yard.
James 4:1-2 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire, but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”
One of the main reasons that we experience “shoe envy” or wish we were living in another person’s shoes is because we are unhappy with our own lives. We think they have what we want, so we attack them. Obviously, this is not the portrait of a godly woman.
Rather than envying the grass in someone’s lawn, as godly women, we need to put some good old-fashioned hard work into making the grass in our own lawn greener.
As James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
When we spend our time focusing on God’s will for our lives, being the people He wants us to be, and walking in the shoes He’s given us with dignity and grace, we will be too busy to worry about judging others. This brings us to the third thing we need to remember:
Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged.”
Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I’ve often wondered exactly what that verse meant. Growing up in the church, I’ve often heard it misinterpreted to mean that you shouldn’t differentiate between right and wrong. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus meant.
So I looked it up in Barnes Commentary on the NT. He says that in this verse Jesus is referring to “a habit of forming a judgment hastily, harshly, and without an allowance for every unpleasant circumstance, and a habit of “expressing” such an opinion harshly and unnecessarily when formed.”
Let’s be honest ladies, we all know what it means:
“She walked right past me without even saying ‘hello’ because she thinks she’s too good to talk to me.”
Really? Did it ever occur to you that she’s not feeling well? Maybe she’s got a lot on her mind? Perhaps she’s a little shy or insecure herself?
Possibly we should be slower to rush to judgment and assume we know another’s motives or intentions. Instead, wouldn’t we be better off extending grace and mercy in as many of these situations as possible? After all, do any of us really know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes? Which reminds me of something my Mom always said:
No one really knows what goes on inside the walls of another person’s house.
Perhaps the best thing we could all learn to do before we rush to judgment on another woman is ask ourselves, “Do I really know what it’s like to live in her shoes?”
What’s she really going through?
What’s her family going through?
Are there hidden pressures and stresses that the average onlooker doesn’t see?
Could she be struggling financially?
Is she experiencing a health crisis?
Could there be more to the story than meets the eye?
Finally, if I knew the answers to these questions would I respond with more grace and mercy? Perhaps I can respond that way without knowing all of the answers to these questions and give her the benefit of the doubt simply because she is my sister in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up”.
We can’t do this is we’re always looking for the worst in each other—the chinks in another woman’s armor that make us feel better about ourselves. Instead of saying, “I could wear those shoes so much better than her”, we should pray that God will give her the strength to wear her shoes well even as we pray that He helps us to wear our shoes for His honor and glory.
Finally, each of us needs to remember to:
Be liberal with grace and mercy and cautious with criticism.
Perhaps the best way to apply this principle is to remember the Golden Rule and “Do to others what you would have them do to you,” (Matthew 7:12)
If you were walking in her shoes, would you want people to be understanding or critical?
Would you prefer if people asked how you were rather than assuming your feelings, opinions, or motivations?
If you did happen to stumble and repent, would you want people to be gracious or glad to see you fall?
A few months ago I observed an incident where a young minister was extremely offended by an error in judgment made by an older minister. When the older minister found out, they immediately apologized and did their best to never make that mistake again. As an on looking third party the only advice I could give the younger minister was simple: When someone makes a mistake and truly repents, extend grace quickly because you’ll make lots of mistakes in the years ahead and you’ll want people to extend grace to you.
Perhaps this needs to become a motto we all live by. The truth is that each of us is wearing the shoes another person wish they had, and most of us are looking up to another whose shoes seem impossible to fill. In the end, we’re all just women who are trying to walk in the paths that God laid out for us. Perhaps the best any of us can do is to stop wishing we were in another woman’s shoes and start wearing the shoes God has given us to the best of our ability. If we can add a generous dose of understanding, grace, mercy, and encouragement toward each other I think we’ll go a long way toward becoming the portrait of a godly woman.